Being rich isn’t all it’s cracked up to be

  • Teapot Dome gas station, from the new Center for the American West report

  “It’s not easy being rich” — especially when you’re rich in natural resources. So says a new report from the Center of the American West at the University of Colorado at Boulder, explaining why the West is smack-dab in the middle of the nation’s energy fight.

The report, What Every Westerner Should Know About Energy, explains the history of energy development, production and use. It shows that everything we do is made possible by fossil fuels. When you phone a friend or toss a Frisbee, you’re using products that contain petroleum. When you make toast or flip on a light, your electricity probably comes from coal.

But beyond the price per gallon or kilowatt hour are “hidden” costs like air pollution, water use, and development of wild lands. These are costs increasingly borne by resource-rich Westerners, as the Bush administration and Congress open more lands to energy development and remove those lands’ environmental protections.

The report’s bottom line is no surprise: We need to pay more attention to conservation now and work seriously on developing renewable sources for the future. Perhaps, as the report suggests, we should try putting a chunk of coal next to the reading lamp as a reminder of where that light is coming from.

What Every Westerner Should Know About Energy is available online at
High Country News Classifieds